In a recent episode of my Human Risk podcast, my guest Dr Roger Miles highlighted the benefits of listening to frontline staff for risk management purposes. So he’ll be delighted to hear that his advice is being followed at the very highest levels of the White House.
An excerpt I saw from a recently published book by Peter Bergen called “Trump and His Generals: The Cost of Chaos” explains that Trump told his advisers that he wanted:
“to sit down with some enlisted guys that have been there”
“I don’t want any generals in here. I don’t want any officers. I just want enlisted guys”
As a result, he gleans insights that are different from the perspective the Senior Military Leaders have provided. One of the first groups of Afghanistan veterans to speak with Trump were US Navy Seals who, according to Bergen, spoke critically of the war:
“It’s unwinnable. NATO’s a joke. Nobody knows what they’re doing. We don’t fight to win. The morale is terrible. It’s totally corrupt”
As you’re already an avid listener to the Human Risk podcast, you’ll know what Roger had to say about the idea of listening to frontline staff to help manage risk. But just in case you’ve forgotten, click on the image below for a quick reminder:
Just as Generals won’t necessarily have insight into the experiences of the soldier on the ground, C-Suite Executives cocooned in offices and boardrooms are unlikely to be able to accurately know the reality of their own organisation’s operations. Particularly in complex, global organisations.
For that reason, more than ever before, frontline staff can provide valuable insight. They’ll be the first to know when customers think a product is too expensive, a service isn’t up to standard or when systems aren’t fit for purpose. Tapping their brains makes a lot of sense.
But this isn’t just about being closer to the action. In the 21st Century, the risk environment in which organisations operate is more complex, fast-moving and volatile than ever before. As are the consequences of getting it wrong.
This requires organisations to respond quickly and to contemplate risks they have never had to face before. As a result, past experience may be of limited use in dealing with present and future challenges.
Senior people won’t necessarily have the best (or indeed any) answers to the challenges posed by societal and technological change that they may not fully understand. The CEO with no personal experience of social media is probably not best equipped to handle a Twitterstorm.
As Prince Andrew has embarrassingly illustrated, people who built their careers in an era of #metoo type behaviour, may not have any idea how to navigate a world that is rightly intolerant of things that only a few years ago, might well have been (or at least seemed to them) common practice.
One of the benefits of diversity is that it introduces new perspectives that a homogenised one won’t bring. But you won’t get those benefits without having proper inclusion; those different perspectives come with ideas about how organisations should be run.
This means listening to employees at all levels. It also means paying attention to and being supportive of whistleblowers, who are often powerful forward indicators of risk. It’s also worth reflecting that as most people are aware of the personal risks of becoming a whistleblower, the fact they are prepared to come forward, suggests that they think what they have to say is important.
The idea of listening to staff shouldn’t just be a response to an incident or investigation. It should be a regular part of 21st-century management.
On that note, during our discussion, Roger and I also touched upon the idea that line managers should spend time with people on the front line, to understand the challenges they face in their roles. This idea has been adopted by TV Series like “Undercover Boss” and “Back To The Floor” where CEOs spend time doing the jobs that their employees do to gain insights into their organisations; the first format sees them doing it in disguise, the latter on a more open basis.
We perhaps shouldn’t be surprised that this was something that Donald Trump also did on camera in the Chicago Trump hotel.
This is worth watching, not just because it is entertaining, but also because he makes some very revealing comments.
Obviously, this is a “for camera” exercise and is somewhat superficial. But the idea, executed properly, is a good one.
If Donald Trump is able to do it, then why, as Roger asks, are other senior managers so scared of it?
You can re-live the entire discussion I had with Roger on Episode 6 of the Human Risk podcast. Available here or wherever you get your quality audio content. Who knows, you might find other areas where he’s influenced White House policy…